State Data Leaders Convene

Christina Pena
December 16, 2016

WDQC hosted its third annual Fly-In earlier this week, convening state data experts to engage on federal policy in Washington, DC. For two days, representatives from 20 state agencies exchanged ideas with federal officials, national advocates, and foundation leaders.

Participants highlighted how data can influence important decisions, such as where policymakers choose to invest in workforce programs or how faculty design courses. Throughout the event, speakers acknowledged that maintaining privacy and security should remain paramount for data system development and use.

Several key themes for action emerged:

Get WIOA implementation right: As states implement the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), they are looking to efficiently collect and accurately report on performance outcomes. U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) officials noted on a panel discussion that additional guidelines are on the way on several topics, including supplemental data to determine employment outcomes when wage record matching is not possible. DOL plans to announce the sixth funding round of Workforce Data Quality Initiative (WDQI) grants in spring of 2017, and DOL will encourage states to use the grants to support WIOA implementation.

During another panel session covering data innovations, attendees were briefed on the development and testing of the Training Provider Outcomes Toolkit (TPOT) at the University of Chicago, which will produce an open source solution for training providers to meet WIOA reporting requirements more efficiently and strengthen accountability.

Bridge local-state-federal data divides: Many participants saw state data and operations, especially statewide longitudinal data systems (SLDS), as the backbone of workforce data. They acknowledged the importance of federal roles, such as efforts by the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, to provide information for the entire nation. However, several participants noted that federal agencies should do a better job of providing detailed data to states for further analysis. Panelists and participants also called for more capacity building at the local level, so that program managers can use data more effectively.

Capture better credential and skills data: Leaders from Census and the Manufacturing Institute discussed their promising new pilots to match wage information with different kinds of credentials. Participants also called for better information on skills and ways to signal competencies. Connecting Credentials and the Open Skills Project were among various efforts discussed to make progress toward filling these information gaps. Capturing more data on work-based learning, such as apprenticeships, was also seen as integral to improving knowledge about successful career pathways.

Advocate for accountability based on quality data: Taking into account recent elections, federal policy discussions addressed uncertainty around the development and passage of legislation on postsecondary education. Staff from the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee conveyed that momentum continues to build for accountability, but key Congressional leaders disagree on how to get there.

The upcoming Presidential transition was not expected to push aside the issue of harnessing data for performance reporting and building evidence. The bipartisan Commission on Evidence-Based Policy will continue its work through September 2017. Commission staff at the conference encouraged participants to remain engaged, and other federal staff spoke about how evidence requirements will increasingly be built into grants and laws.

In addition to discussing federal policy, state experts heard about philanthropy's role in promoting evidence-based policy during a panel with speakers from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Lumina Foundation. The Fly-In also provided time for peer-to-peer learning about a variety of topics, including data matching techniques and strategies to conduct outreach to data users.